Review of Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World's First Female Rabbi

Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi
by Sigal Samuel; illus. by Vali Mintzi
Primary, Intermediate    Levine Querido    40 pp.    g
2/21    978-1-64614-037-4    $17.99

Osnat Barzani (1590–1670) convinced her father, a rabbi, to teach her to read Hebrew, unusual as that was for a girl at the time, and her curious mind embraced Jewish learning. In lyrical prose (“Osnat loved the shapes of the Hebrew letters. One looked like a mysterious animal, and another, a creeping vine”), Samuel spins the story of a woman who studied Torah throughout her marriage and took over her husband’s yeshiva after his death. She incorporates the miraculous powers that some legends grant Barzani, mainly via a dove that she heals and that helps save the synagogue after a fire. Mintzi’s striking, mostly full-bleed illustrations (often luminous “gouache colors in layers”) show Osnat in the beautiful, sometimes dreamlike city of Mosul (in what is now Iraq). An author’s note gives background on the legends Samuel used to inspire her account of the woman whose writings don’t all survive, but who is “remembered locally as the first female rabbi and the first female Kurdish Jewish leader.”

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She is a current member of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award committee, and has served on the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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